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Researchers Studying What Dogs Are Thinking

(CBS) -- They live with us, play with us and even sleep at the end of our beds. We love our dogs and often like to think we know what's going on in their heads, but do we really? As CBS 2's Roseanne Tellez reports a team of researchers is now studying what's going on in their brains.

You look at their faces and have to wonder: what are they thinking?

"I think they understand how we're feeling and I think they understand what we are saying a lot of the time," said PAWS volunteer Andrew Tobin.

Paws volunteer Meghan Merkle agrees.

"Do you think she's smart?" asked Roseanne Tellez.

"She's extremely smart," answered Merkle.

Laurie Santos, Ph.D. is the director of the Yale Canine Cognition Center where all they do is study dogs to learn everything they can about the dog's mind.

"Dogs are just fascinating," said Dr. Santos. "We love them, they live in our homes. Anyone who hangs out with a dog is kind of wondering, 'What are they thinking? Do they love me?'"

To figure all this out--researchers put hundreds of volunteer dogs to a series of tests. One involves a book. The dog watches as his or her companion sits and reads. Then she puts the book on the floor--behind her. A moment later, someone comes into the room and takes the book.

"What we're really trying to see is whether or not dogs know when they've missed some information. Can they realize that, first of all, and when they do realize it, are they motivated to help?" Santos said.

The results? Again and again--not only do the dogs seem to realize something is wrong, but they also seem to be trying to alert their companions.

"At home he's really observant. He's always paying attention," said April Ruiz, whose dog Ben is part of the study.

"He's a very concerned dog and there's a lot of humanizing things about him," said Sarah Locke, whose dog Rocket is in the study.

"He was just kind of like, 'What do you think about this?" said Angie Johnston, whose dog Vadar is participating as well.

In another test the dog and companion are relaxing in a room when the researcher suddenly introduces a new object.

"She's telling him, "Wow, look at how interesting that is,'" described Dr. Santos.

The goal of the test is to see whether or not a dog will become interested in the same item.

"When she did her pointing, he was all of a sudden directing his gaze at the object, being really interested in it," described Dr. Santos.

So what--if anything--can researchers surmise from the testing they've done so far?

"The most surprising thing for me is about how many of our intuitions about dogs are right. So we have all these intuitions that dogs know what we are feeling and that dogs want to communicate with us," said Rebecca Spaulding, a Yale junior who is helping with the research.

"One thing we have found consistently is how in tune the dogs are to our emotions," said Maddie Marino, also helping with the testing and a senior at Yale.

So far the center has tested 300 hundred dogs with a thousand more on the waiting list.

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